Thursday, April 30, 2015

throwback thursday: favorite movie towns

A post from 2009:

movies I'd like to visit, maybe even live there

Hollywood is not really a town, if you've ever visited. Not a town like the small one that some folks come from, or a bigger one, like where I live, here in D.C. But every once in a while Hollywood puts out a movie that takes place in "a small town," just like the ones that we know never really existed, but maybe would like to visit, or at least pretend to live in, for ninety minutes to an hour. And it's clear that the key to the attraction is as much the locals as the remote location.

In Doc Hollywood Michael J. Fox plays his usual smart-ass, this time as a hot-shot doc wanna-be Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who lands smack dab in the middle of the squash capital of the South. After waking to a morning skinny-dipping goddess vision and a pee-in-the-woods mating ritual, he is smitten with the girl, the town and its cast of kooks and so are we. And it's got Woody Harrelson in a good bit part, among others. Anther film with the same small town fish-out-of-water fun is the brilliant Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray reliving a day and getting to know everyone and everything really well until he gets it right. He also is in one of my all-time favorites. What About Bobwhere he takes over Richard Dreyfuss's vacation, family and life ably abetted by some helpful neighbors.

Julia Roberts manages to lure Richard Gere from the Big Apple, or is it the other way around, in Runaway Bride? The Maryland town she is supposed to inhabit is full of a bunch of people you'd want to hang out with. Any town that sports Joan Cusack would be worth looking into. There are strange, unexplained details that make you wonder. What's with all the multiples? There are different sets of twins and triplets in many background scenes. Maybe it's something in the water...Housesitter, directed by Frank Oz, is another small-towns-and-romance-go-great-together movie, where Goldie Hawn insinuates herself into Steve Martin's life after a one-night stand. It's interesting, because we watch her fall in love with his house and his life and his family and (most of) his friends and have to wait impatiently for him to catch up. Oz hits another home run with In and Out, which has Kevin Kline slowly but surely discovering his inner homosexual and learning that everyone in town still loves him as much as we do. The final scene where everyone parties down so that his mother can get the "wedding" she always dreamed of is pure fun. And again, Joan Cusack lives there.

Casablanca is a classic, with the magnificent Bogie and an exotic collection of individuals all trying to escape from something. Wartime and romance are major plot points, but as the credits roll, I am secretly glad that Bogie has decided to stay in Casablanca with Louis and fight the good fight. It sure seems like they're going to have a hell of a time.

There are some other excellent movies that have fascinating small towns that I am glad I only have to visit for a little while, as they would be terrifying to live in full-time. Hitchcock must have been fascinated by small-town America, because he depicts it many times, all to sinister effect. Two of my favorite of his movies, Shadow of a Doubt and The Birds turn the safety and familiarity of living in a place where you know everyone on its head, as one town is hosting a serial killer and the other is besieged by unexplained deadly bird attacks. A holiday classic, It's a Wonderful Life, actually shows a town, that no matter how wonderful some of its inhabitants are, would be a pretty rough place to have to live. I'll pass, thanks.

I don't live in New York any more, but once you have, it never quite leaves you. New York is not a small town, but there have been a few film fantasies that somehow manage to get a sense of the city. Guys and Dolls is a real slice of Broadway history, both musical and depicting the sorts of characters that used to hang out near Times Square. A far cry from the Disney theme park that exists there today. And Marlon Brando sings! The Godfather, Part II is a crime classic, but it also gives a slice of what it meant to be an Italian immigrant in this country, coming through New York. Another fun film set in downtown New York is After Hours, the ultimate trip through SoHo in the 80s with Griffin Dunne being dragged from one bizarre situation to the next. Woody Allen is well-known to be in love with his home town New York and has made movies set in the city many times, but as an ex-new Yorker, I don't really get a strong sense of the city, except as travelogue, in his films. Hannah and Her Sisters is one exception, where the SoHo and downtown sequences seem truly "the city," as Michael Caine tries to seduce Barbara Hershey in bookstores, her partner's painting studio, and on the street.

So whenever big city life gets to be a bit much, I know I can retreat to one of these film oases. Any other favorite film fantasy small towns?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


The clouds have just been amazing lately.




Tuesday, April 28, 2015

pandora's lunchbox: watch what you eat

I have been working hard over the past year or so to improve my diet. Not diet, but be more conscious of the food I eat. I found Melanie Warner's Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal both fascinating and terrifying. In a very accessible and readable style Warner talks to scientists and purveyors of processed foods to understand how they are made and what chemicals we are also ingesting on a daily basis.

Warner is a former business writer for the New York Times. She is also a mom and a self-confessed after of processed foods. She admits readily to relying on shortcuts like chicken nuggets to feed her kids. But she also wanted to look more closely at the laundry list of ingredients in much of the food we eat. And whether it technically could still be called food.

She writes about the history of how some foods we take for grated came about, like cheese slices, and how marketing can be used to allay customer concerns, such as when the FDA decreed that there was not enough real cheese left in a slice of individually wrapped cheese that didn't phase copies like Kraft, who just artfully (and in small type) changed their product wrappers to "processed cheese product." Most consumers either didn't notice or didn't care.

One of Warner's experiments from her Museum of Eternal Food, with processed cheese product on the left and fresh cheese on the right.

There are many fascinating and stomach turning things to be learned in Pandora's Lunchbox.

Most of our vitamins come from from China and are made using ingredients like sheep grease.

Soybean may account for 10% of the total calories in the American diets.

Toxic chemical compounds are created in the high temperature of the frying oil of fast food French fries.

The "fresh" blueberry muffin you grab on the way to work is actually made with "Flav-r-Bites" - pre-prepared jelly bits made from extruded flavored pectin, artificial flavor, sugar and artificial coloring.

Warner is not an extremist and doesn't want anyone to swear off all processed food forever more. But there are certain chemicals she suggests we should all avoid. Fresh of course, is best, but the author acknowledges that in our fast-paced lives making home-cooked meals may not always be possible. But we can be more informed about what we choose to eat. And read labels more carefully. And I, for one, will never again eat a pre-wrapped, processed, slice of "cheese."


Monday, April 27, 2015

game of thrones: a man must serve

So many interesting things happened last night on the third episode, "High Sparrow," of the fifth season of Game of Thrones. I didn't miss Daenerys and her crew one bit, either. There are a few spoilers included below for those who haven't read the books ...

As Jaqen H'ghar, Arya's teacher/mentor/Mr. Miyagi told her, "All men must serve." Arya is just beginning to get a glimpse of what life in the House of Black and White might be like. Her first task was to cast off all things Arya, which meant her clothes, her precious "Valar Morghulis" coin, and [gulp] Needle, her trusty sword that was a gift from half-brother Jon Snow. But she couldn't make herself do it, and kept just a little bit of Arya inside of her, and spared the rest of us the despair we would have felt if we watched Needle sink into the Braavos canal.

The first ever Westeros wedding without a casualty occurred in King's Landing, between Margery and young Tommen, who embraced his wedding night with typical teenage boy gusto. Margery wasted no time exercising her home court advantage by getting Tommen to consider that an overbearing mother might be better enjoyed from a distance - and Tommen quickly suggested that Cersei might be happier in Casterly Rock. Cersei tries to intimidate Margery, but she and her attendants were too busy discussing the indefatigable young king's prowess to let anything Cersei might try to insinuate bother them. But no matter. At least Cersei still has her creepy sidekick Qyburn and his Mountain-like Frankenstein experiment, and a new friend and associate in the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce).

Up at The Wall Jon looked very comfortable in his new role as Lord Commander. He turned down Stannis's offer of becoming Lord of the North and proceeded to exercise his power by executing his first traitor, the loathsome Janos Slynt, just like his dear old dad Ned Stark would have done, with a sword of Valerian steel. Stannous looked on approvingly from the battlements. Jon may not have accepted his offer, but the two do seem to have a grudging respect for one another and may find themselves some sort of allies in the future.

For once I'm actually interested in what Littlefinger has to say.

The show took a real turn from the books by having Littlefinger offer Sansa in marriage to the creepy and sadistic Ramsay Bolton. This is a brilliant change and streamlining of the books clunky "fake Arya" storyline. I am looking forward to seeing how this will play out. And for the first time ever I wonder if I have caught a glimpse of Littlefinger's true end game. It as been assumed all along that Catelyn Stark was his true love and he lusts for Sansa as she reminds him of his lost love. But maybe he actually hates Cat and all of her family. He must know how horrible Ramsay is. And an alliance with the Bolton;s can't really mean that much to him politically - in fact it puts him in a more precarious position. We'll see ...

Brienne and Pod were lovely together and in another improvement on the book's storyline, Brienne showed that she is more aware of the behavior of the people around her than we might have thought. She illustrated this by telling a touching story of how she first met Renly Baratheon. Please keep giving us moments and stories like this, please.

Friday, April 24, 2015

favorite song friday: low budget

I've been listening to the Kinks album Low Budget lately and am struck by how Ray Davies's songs about how times are tough all over still resonates today — maybe even more strongly than when it was originally released in 1979.

Brothers Ray (L) and Dave Davies of The Kinks

I'm shopping at Woolworth and low discount stores
I'm dropping my standards so that I can buy more


Art takes time, time is money
Money's scarce and that ain't funny
Millionaires are things of the past
We're in a low budgetville where nothing can last
Money's rare there's none to be found
So don't think I'm tight if I don't buy a round

I'm on a low budget
What did you say
Yes I'm on a low budget
I thought you said that
I'm on a low budget
I'm a cut price person in a low budget land

The entire album is great, but "Low Budget," "Catch Me Now I'm Falling," "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman," "A Gallon of Gas," and "Misery" are favorites.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

sketchbook thursday

The kid and I attend Art After Dark events at our local art museum the Norton on Thursday nights. One of our favorites are when they feature art workshops, like Sketchbook Thursday.

The kid took a photo of me hard at work, sketching from a model from the Norton's spiral staircase (I'm at the far right).

This qualifies as a Throwback Thursday post in that it happened last Thursday, and that I am actually sketching and drawing again, which certainly feels like a throwback, albeit a good one, to me.

Playing with different pencils

The kid came up with a drawing game - to close our eyes and draw something, and then the other person tries to guess what it is. This is her rendition of a ... Can you guess?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

tom & huck: lost in translation

Kids will like the latest filmed version of the adventures of Mark Twain's classic characters, Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, but adults may be left wishing for more.

The film features some of the most memorable moments from Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Tom having to paint a white picket fence, he and Huck attending their own funeral, his romance with Becky Thatcher, and their getting lost in the cave. While it is fun to see these scenes depicted, there is something missing, some sense of urgency or mischief that leaves everything feeling a bit flat. ... Add to that an almost unrecognizable Val Kilmer as Mark Twain, narrating the proceedings, and you have a slightly surreal take on an American classic. ...

Huck (Jake T. Austin, L) and Tom (Joel Courtney)

You can read my complete review on Cinema Sentries ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

a note to readers ...

Dear regular and occasional readers of my blog, I truly thank you, for checking in from time to time. You may have noticed that lately things around here are a bit picture-heavy recently. I have really been hunkering down on a long-form writing project, as well as doing a lot of art reading for my aspiring docent gig, so I have had to take a tiny step back from blogging. I no longer do weekend posts, but I don't think anyone has missed those.

I am a strong believer in writing, or working, on something creative every day, and I am still doing that, just not with the blog as the primary recipient of my efforts.

I will still be posting the random review or pop culture opinion I can't help but want to share. But I also hope that you don't mind some scenic photography posts as well. And that you stick around. I hope to share some of my longer-form musings as well as my big project with you all in the near future. Again, thanks, always, for stopping by.

xoxoxo e

Monday, April 20, 2015

game of thrones: it's a black and white world

I have not succumbed to the temptation of watching any of the leaked episodes of Game of Thrones. I prefer the anticipation of waiting until Sunday night. Maybe because I am caught up on George R.R. matins books I feel that I can relax a little. At least I thought so, but the second episode of the fifth season,"The House of Black and White," went off in a few new directions, so very different from the books, that I am starting to feel like one of "The Unsullied" (non book readers. But not to worry, there were enough nods to Martin's prose to keep everyone, readers and watchers alike, happy.

Arya outside The House of Black and White

Arya (Maisie Williams) arrived in Braavos, and we saw the first real, child-like smile we have seen from her in a long time as she took in the life and bustle of the city, the water, the warmth. So different from her childhood home of Winterfell and the hell she has been going through for the past few years. But don't think that she has lost her edge or determination. At first rebuffed at the black and white door outside of the The House of Black and White she soon showed her mettle against a group of toughs in the city that threatened to take her sword Needle. As she made her way back to the black and white door she finally was able to reunite with the enigmatic, shape-shifting Jaqen H'ghar. I don't know about anyone else, but I was thrilled to see the original actor for the role, Tom Wlaschiha, show his face again.

Up at The Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) seemed to have more options than ever before in his young life. Stannis offered to give him his birthright — he would no longer be The Bastard of Winterfell, but Jon Stark, something he had wanted all his life from his father, and become the Lord of Winterfell — if Jon would leave the Night's Watch and fight for him. The Night's Watch had something else in mind. They held an election for a new leader, and after a heartfelt nomination speech from his best buddy Sam, Jon found himself the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. His smile at hearing the news was another welcome sight.

And then the show started to spin off in its own direction. One of this season's several road-trip dream teams, Brienne and Pod, ran across Littlefinger and Sansa in a tavern, with disastrous results. Sansa rejected Brienne's offer of service and protection and Littlefinger, per usual, instructed his men to kill the pair. After a quite exciting chase and rescue (Brienne rescuing Pod, of course) they decided to follow Sansa at a discreet distance, hoping that her rejection was out of fear. I worry for these two, as their story is going off into unknown territory. But I must admit I also find the turn of events intriguing.

Drogon is back!

In Meereen, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) was struggling more than ever to lead her people. First she insisted that an assassin of one of her Unsullied be given a fair trial. But when that man was killed by one of her men she ordered his public execution. This didn't go over at all well with the people of Meereen who went from calling her Mhysa (Mother) to Hissssss. Probably not a term of endearment. Dany's only bright spot was a quick visit from her oldest boy, her dragon Drogon.

Other nice touches: The princess Shireen teaching Gilly to read, Cersei getting a verbal smackdown from her Uncle Kevan — the first of which I'm sure there will be many this season, as she tries to consolidate her power base in King's Landing. We also caught a glimpse of another odd couple dream team, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys, on their way to Dany and Meereen. Hopefully they can talk some sense into the girl queen and help cut out some of her endless political struggles that padded out Martin's last few books. And finally, Jaime is teaming up with Tyrion's former sellsword Bronn to go rescue his daughter, the Princess Myrcella from Dorne and the Sand Snakes. Everyone seems to be pairing up, to entertaining effect, in one way or another in the Seven Kingdoms.

Friday, April 17, 2015

favorite song friday: lay me down

The Sam Smith song "Lay Me Down" was already a hit, but its recent remix with John Legend is over-the-top great.

Sam can certainly sing, and beautifully, but will someone please buy him a puppy? Enough with the heartbreak tunes already, guy.

These two men's voices do blend together beautifully.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

throwback sugar-free thursday

I have cut out all added sugars recently, as part of an experiment to see how my body does without them. It ain't easy. There is so much sugar in everything. I've done this before, so looked back on some previous posts to see how I fared ...


This weekend my icegrandesoychai from the ubiquitous Starbucks didn't taste right. It was too sweet. It used to be my regular order, but I hadn't had it in a while, opting instead for the greentealemonade—unsweet. I guess my taste-buds knew better than I—it's time to cut out the sweet stuff.

I completely cut out sugar for a few months a few years back and the pounds just fell off. I wasn't exactly trying to lose weight at the time—it was more of a "health deal" I had made with my acupuncturist to try and ease my allergies and tummy issues, but it was a perq. Between that regimen and regular acupuncture sessions I seemed to discover my ideal weight. Over the past year or so, daily desserts have been creeping back into our routine, most recently evidenced by my eating a few cookies after the kid went to bed last night. So I have been gaining, bit by bit, and my allergies, etc. haven't been getting any better. Reading all over the internets about the evidence piling on top of already-known evidence about the evils of high fructose corn syrup and things just got too sticky-sweet. The truth is, for us all, that if you have it in the house, you'll eat it. So no more cookies at home. Dessert, if we have it at all, will be distinctly in the form of a special treat, rather than a dietary staple. Sorry, kid. You may hate this now, but you'll thank me in the long run.

Not sure how long I can keep this up, or when I will slip off the wagon, but I am going to attempt a thirty-day no-extra-sugar-added self-challenge. I'm not a maniac. I know there are sugars in bread and sauces if we happen to eat out. And I am not going to become a label lunatic and exorcise the Wheat Thins or the pretzel sticks. But no dessert, no cookies, no soda, no candy, no icegrandesoychai is completely doable for thirty days for me if I stay strong, stay disciplined.

I'd also like to note that I will not "cheat" with that abomination known as diet soda. I have never consumed it (really, never), and I sure as hell won't be starting now. I have always been leery of the so-called sugar alternatives—saccharinenutrasweet (the devil), etc. I know they are a boon for some who can't consume real sugar, but not for me. I'm doubtful of television commercials that claim that their soda has zero calories, citing its pseudoscience with bold, bright and skinny colors. The possibility of zero calories may, although remote, be true. But your (read my) body is going to react to the soda just as if it was made the good old fashioned way, with cocaine and cane sugar—and it won't taste anywhere near as good as that, so why bother? The only way to wean oneself from needing the sugary jolt is to stop partaking of the sugary jolt. At least that's how it works for me. I'm not saying I'll not miss it, or won't go through withdrawal, or wish I chose a different thirty days, but c'est la vie. I'll look better, feel better—at least I hope so. I'll keep you posted. But for now, make mine unsweet.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

best pals

A girl and her dachshund ...


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

the best show you're (probably) not watching

The Middle has been on television since 2009, but I just discovered it with my daughter this past Christmas, when she binge-watched a ton of episodes. At first I only partly paid attention to it, as a sort of background noise, hearing her coo over her favorite character, Brick. But I soon got sucked in, and found myself watching a series of episodes with her, as the quirky working-class Heck family from fictional Orson, Indiana began to ring some suburban growing-up bells for me.

The show is narrated by the mom, Frances "Frankie" Heck, played by Patricia Heaton, of Everybody Loves Raymond fame. I never much liked Raymond, despite its stellar cast (Ray Romano, Doris Roberts, Peter Boyle, Brad Garrett), and really didn't like Heaton's character of Debra, Ray's wife. Most of the time she just seemed strident and pissed off at him. I didn't buy their relationship. Frankie on The Middle, however, is a completely different kind of TV mom.

Frequently frazzled and even obnoxious, but always sympathetic, her rapport with her TV spouse Mike (Neil Flynn) and kids Axl (Charlie McDermott), Sue (Eden Sher), and Brick (Atticus Shaffer) is completely believable and a hoot to watch. I have not only had to re-assess my former ideas of Heaton as an actress, but on many times connected with her portrayal of a woman constantly on the edge - emotionally and financially. The Hecks are far from trying to have it all. They can barely make ends meet. Although many of the situations are exaggerated and even absurd, the all-too-real depiction of Americans struggling to hold home and hearth together can be attributed to show-runners Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline, whose previous projects include Roseanne and Murphy Brown.

The show also has some fabulous guest stars and recurring characters (and this is only scratching the surface):

Bob (Chris Kattan) is Frankie's best friend at her Ehlert Motors job in the first two seasons of the show. Their awful boss is Don Ehlert (Brian Doyle-Murray). After Ehlers fires her to cut costs Frankie has a hard time getting another steady job until Seaon 4, when she is hired as a dental hygienist by Dr. Ted Goodwin (Jack McBrayer).

Mike's dad "Big Mike" Heck Sr. (John Cullum) is an ornery hoarder who doesn't have that much to do with his son's family. Mike's younger brother Rusty (Norm Macdonald) is goofy and a little bit helpless, and lives at various times with his father, in a tent, and in his car.

Frankie's parents are Pat (Marsha Mason) and Tag Spence (Jerry Van Dyke), a bickering but loving duo who appear in most of the holiday-themed episodes.

Sue is very impressed by youth minister  Reverend Timothy "Tim-Tom" Thomas (Paul Hipp). The family also receives some (hilarious) counseling from Keegan-Michael Key, as Reverend Deveaux.

Having the time of her life is Brooke Shields as Rita Glossner, the Heck's scariest neighbor.

Have I intrigued you enough to take a look? If you need any further nudge in that direction, consider the character of the Heck's middle child Sue. The writing of the character and acting by Eden Sher manages to tap into the inner nerd of every tween and teen girl. Sue is beyond enthusiastic and desperate to join in to various school, sports, and club activities - and chronically unsuited for all of them. From her perpetual braces to her long, lifeless hair, she is an illustration of the awkwardness that is youth. While her high school athlete, constantly in his boxers older brother Axl, and strange little brother Brick may get most of the attention for their respective accomplishments and odd behavioral quirks, it is Sue who seems to epitomize a family that may be out of their league and underachieving, but is always funny and relatable.

Monday, April 13, 2015

it's back ... game of thrones

Even though I've read all the books up to this point, and considered myself fairly up to date on the Game of Thrones universe, I felt a bit out to sea after the season five premiere, "The Wars to Come," last night. The scheming of Varys and Littlefinger and all the rest of the population of the Seven Kingdoms was off and running, and it was an unsettling yet exciting feeling to realize I had no idea where they were going next.

It was great to see Tyrion (Peter Dinklage — Dinkles is my jam!) again. And even greater was the hint that his story was being streamlined, and that some pretty annoying characters from George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons might not be making an appearance. Dany (Emilia Clarke) was back and living large as the queen of Meereen, but seemed not to be in control of her dragons. She has two in chains beneath an enormous pyramid, while the largest, Drogon, has gone missing. As her current boy toy and chief warrior Daario reminded her — a dragon queen with no dragons is not a queen.

Young Cersei and friend — always a mean girl
The episode opened with the first-ever flashback, or maybe more accurately, back story scene, of a young Cersei and a friend off to see a local witch. Cersei was told a prophecy which still haunts her to this day - She will not marry a prince but a king, and be queen, but another, younger, more beautiful one will take all she holds dear. But that's not all. That her king will have 20 children, but she will have only three, which makes no sense to young Cersei. And, just wait ... and that of her children, "Gold will be their crowns, gold their shrouds." The present day grown woman Cersei assumes that the younger, prettier schemer is perpetual almost-queen Margaery Tyrell, and fears what she will do to her youngest boy, King Tommen, but my money is on Daenerys.

The showstopper of the first episode however, took place up at The Wall, where Jon Snow (Kit Harington) tried to save his former enemy Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) from a fiery end. The two men share a deep respect for each other, even when they rarely see eye-to-eye. The unyielding "true king" of Westeros, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and his witchy woman Melisandre (Carice van Houten), are as creepy and inflammatory as ever, and I felt for Jon Snow trying to make sense of their manipulations.

Varys and Tyrion — on the road again
The Game of Thrones fifth season is off to a good start. I'm looking forward to what show-runners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have in store for us next, especially the new road trip odd couple duo of Varys and Tyrion. They just may surprise me.

Friday, April 10, 2015

favorite song friday: the ballad of lucy jordan

Flipping through my iTunes the other day I came across this oldie but goodie from Marianne Faithfull, "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan." Her album, Broken English, was huge with all of my art school friends and myself. I think I first became aware of the song when it was featured in a Swedish film, Montenegro. We had the album on nonstop rotation in the '80s. The ethereal tune also shows up on the soundtrack of Thelma and Louise.

... She could clean the house for hours
Or rearrange the flowers
Or run naked through the shady street
Screaming all the way

At the age of 37
She realized she'd never ride
Through Paris in a sports car
With the warm wind in her hair ...

The lyrics are written by Shel Silverstein (!)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

throwback game of thrones thursday

The show runners of Game of Thrones,  David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have caught up to the books. Some scenes from George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons popped up last season and more are sure to appear this year. And what else ...

Benioff and Weiss are working closely with the author, so know the general trend of things, but that doesn't help faithful readers who have been waiting (and waiting) for the next installment to be finished and published, The Winds of Winter. I held off reading A Dance with Dragons as long as I could, finishing it last summer. Here's my review, as a throwback post and a refresher for the new season, which starts airing this Sunday.

like sands in the hourglass, these are the games of our thrones ...

Both book and television spoilers lurk within ...

A Dance with Dragons, the fifth novel in George R. R. Martin's epic A Song of Ice and Fire series, was published in 2011, after a five-year gap between it and the previous entry, A Feast for Crows. The series started with A Game of Thrones in 1996. The series has had an interesting evolution. Originally intended to be a trilogy, Martin soon realized that his fictional world of Westeros and beyond was expanding and would require first four, then six, now seven, and possibly even eight, books to complete. As the time between the published novels stretches, his devoted readers fret that their author may never reach a conclusion. After completing A Dance with Dragons, I can understand some of the reader-panic. In his latest entry the world and its characters have continued to expand. How can Martin possible polish off this series in just seven books?

Dany (played by Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones) with her dragon, Drogon

I discovered Martin and his world like many, after watching the first season of Game of Thrones on HBO. A huge Sean Bean fan, I was shocked when the axe fell and ended both his character Ned Stark, the presumed "hero" of the show, and any expectations I might have been harboring of where the narrative would take me next. As soon as the first season ended I dove into the books — A Game of ThronesA Clash of KingsA Storm of Swords, and straight through until A Feast for Crows. In the meantime, I had purchased A Dance with Dragons not long after it came out, and even read a few chapters before I set it aside. I wasn't ready to get to the end of whatever Martin had written so far.

When the second and third seasons of the television show aired, I was, I thought, prepared for what would be depicted onscreen. But show runners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have managed to add a few twists and turns of their own, especially in the recently ended fourth season, to keep both book readers and the "Unsullied" jumping. Once the fourth season recently ended it finally seemed like a good time to pick up the threads of the story and see where Tyrion and Arya and Daenerys and Jon Snow and all the others were headed next. I got those answers. Sorta.

If you browse Amazon or any other site that reviews A Dance with Dragons the number one complaint is that nothing happens, that Martin is treading water. At a glacial, even soap opera-like pace. There are a lot of pages devoted to ships traveling on the sea. Slowly. It's not an incorrect critique, if what one was hoping for was a lot of physical movement of the main characters, like pieces on a chessboard. Martin may be playing chess, or cyvasse, as Tyrion does, but with a different, longer game in mind. Which is why I think that to truly sum things up, he'll need three more books. Hopefully we can all get there.

Martin may spend what some consider an inordinate amount of time describing what his characters are eating and how they are dressing, but can anyone deny that they don't know the difference between conditions at The Wall versus Meereen or the Dothraki sea? He also manages to get in quite a bit of backstory, to expand on what happened before the first novel took place; the motivations of people that are casting long shadows on their younger generations. And the horrors of war, and difficulties of governing, which could easily be compared to some very contemporary problems and issues. I will admit that I didn't necessarily need to be reminded multiple times of Meereen's many-colored brick pyramid walls. But I think Martin may have acquired the same problem with his editors that plagued J.K. Rowling towards the end of her Harry Potter series. They don't cut a damn word.

Reek (Alfie Allen) gives his master Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon) a close shave

Some characters may seem to have evolved only slightly in A Dance with Dragons, but appearances may be deceiving. Let's examine.

Daenerys. The Queen of Meereen and all her other numerous titles, is still in the east, and seems no closer to getting to Westeros, which is very frustrating for readers. As she likes to say (a lot) she is just a young girl. This young girl does spend a lot of time mooning over a certain sell-sword named Daario, but when the goings get tough outside her adopted/conquered city (plague, famine, attack from many enemies), she doesn't take the easy way out as all her advisors want her to do, but stays put and tries to make a better life for her people. She even agrees to marry the noble Hizdahr, someone she neither trusts nor loves, because she thinks it will bring peace. And towards the end of the book she finally gets to do what I had been waiting, hoping for for ages — she hops on her dragon Drogon's back and takes flight. Truly the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys may be temporarily a bit lost in the Dothraki Sea, but she will still be a force to be reckoned with.

Tyrion. His chapters may have been the most frustrating for readers (and Martin). A fan favorite, how are we supposed to feel about him, after he has killed his father and his lover and fled, presumably in search of "where whores go"? Martin's answer was to send him on a circuitous journey, teasing us with his reaching Daenerys to join her council. But he never really does. Instead he meets another Targaryen no one knew was still alive, also interested in taking the Iron Throne, gets captured by Jorah Mormont, then both are later sold into slavery where he meets a female (and fairly annoying) performing dwarf. As always Tyrion uses his considerable wits to get them out of that predicament, but what next? Another cliffhanger.

"You know nothing, Jon Snow" (Kit Harington)
Jon Snow. His character showed the most growth. He had to contend with King Stannis, his Red Witch Melisandre, and his Queen and her court while simultaneously trying to breach a peace with the Wildlings. A decision that was most unpopular with his men of the Night's Watch, Jon let the Wildlings not only cross to their side of The Wall, but allowed some to don the black cloaks of the Night's Watch. Heresy. Jon understands that the old prejudices must be set aside if they are truly going to survive the winter that is coming, and the Others and otherworldly threats that lurk beyond the Wall. At the same time, he can't seem to let go of his allegiance to his old home of Winterfell, and a decision to try and defend the castle opens the door for his men to pull a Caesar-style execution move. Or did they? Cue Melisandre and the Lord of Light's magic in 3,2,1 ...

Those are the three central characters of the narrative at the moment, but there was a lot more going on as well, with Arya, and Bran, and Asha Greyjoy, but most especially with Reek, now back to calling himself Theon. Theon has become a fascinating character, one which I never expected to sympathize with. When we first meet him in A Game of Thrones he was clearly a callow youth. Some might even have called him a jerk. It comes as no surprise (except to the Starks) that he became Theon Turncloak. But Martin threw Theon and his readers for a loop when he introduced an even more vile character in the form of Ramsay Snow, the Bastard of Bolton. Ramsay tortured, castrated, and mutilated Theon, turning him into the sniveling Reek. The unpleasant Reek gave us a view into Ramsay and his father Roose Bolton's doings (much like his sister Asha functions to show us what Stannis and his army are up to). But once Ramsay takes Winterfell in A Dance with Dragons, Reek slowly transforms back into Theon. His memories of his childhood there and his vists to the weirwood tree (and possible coaching from greenseer Bran) restore, at least mentally, his manhood. A character I used to loathe reading about, Theon has become one of the most interesting characters in the series.

A Dance with Dragons visits King's Landing for just a few chapters, which may have worked better in A Feast for Crows, but why quibble? Cersei is as awful (and fun to read about) as ever. Her uncle Kevan had a slam-bang chapter of his own, which featured another favorite face from the past, Varys. But these brief visits are just previews of the next book, The Winds of Winter. And there, lies the rub, of course. Martin has such a way of making us interested in his characters, that one can't help but be frustrated when one nears the end of the massive tome and realizes that just ten more pages aren't going to reveal what happens next to Tyrion, Daenerys, or in a way-too-short tantalizing peek, Jaime and Brienne (!) So here we sit, hoping for scraps and previews that Martin is posting on his blog. And maybe rewatching select episodes of Game of Thrones until The Winds of Winter comes out. This year? Next year?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

this is what happens when you binge-watch

I've been re-watching Game of Thrones, building up to the new season starting again on Sunday. The show is so intricate. Even when you know what's coming, there is so much going on, with so many characters, that some scenes seemed fresh, still surprised me.

Another funny thing happened while binge-watching. Certain minor characters that maybe I didn't pay as much attention to before stood out the second time around.


Sir Loras (Finn Jones) — Everyone, except Sansa, is so mean to The Knight of Flowers.

Loras, "My father once told me... " 
Cersei, "Nobody cares what your father once told you."

But every once in a while he gets a chance to zing those snooty Lannisters of Kings Landing. It's hard to take sometimes, how snide everyone can be about Loras's sexual orientation. Even his grandmother (Diana Rigg) calls him a sword swallower. As much as some of the character's dialogue about him is offensive, Loras and Renly may be one of the few couples on the show that truly loved each other, and Loras's grief is genuine and heartfelt in its portrayal.

Jaime, "If you were to marry Cersei, she'd murder you in your sleep. If you somehow managed to put a child in her first, she'd murder him, too, long before he drew his first breath. Luckily for you, none of this will happen because you'll never marry her." 
Loras, "And neither will you."


Ros (Esmé Bianco) — She is a prostitute with brains as well as beauty, who runs up against most of the male characters in the show — Tyrion, Theon, Littlefinger, and Joffrey — with dangerous results. She is also a controversial figure, a creation solely of the show, who appeared many times in "sex-plication" scenes - dialogue heavy scenes which helped move the plot along, aided by the scantily clad or completely nude Ros and her companions. She was also the recipient of violence, which raised the hackles of many. As disturbing as some of these scenes may be to some, it is undeniable that brutality exists in the world of Game of Thrones and in our own world as well.


Theon (Alfie Allen) — The always out-of-his-league Theon is not exactly a minor character. He also has always been far from one of my favorites, in either the books or show ... except ... watching him in his transformation from Theon to Reek this time I could really see both the actor's and character's progression. There were seeds sewn in even the first episodes of the series of Theon's fate.

Such great storytelling — can't wait for Sunday.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Friday, April 03, 2015

favorite song friday: it's only rock 'n' roll

It's not summer yet, but whenever I hear oldies but goodies like this one on the radio I can't help but think of the summertime ...

If I could dig down deep in my heart
Feelings would flood on the page
Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

april fools

Happy April Fools' Day!